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Hart Stilwell
September 06, 1954
Texas is kidding hunters with plan that sounds good but won't work
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September 06, 1954

Pen-raised Quail

Texas is kidding hunters with plan that sounds good but won't work

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Down in Texas, delinquent girls are going to start raising quail under a project recently adopted by the Texas Game and Fish Commission. It's a touching idea—pen-reared girls mothering pen-reared quail. Possibly this mothering will help the unfortunate girls and give them a better chance to face a hard world when they are released.

What it will do to the quail when they are released can best be illustrated by an account of some field trials held in Oklahoma not long ago. The sponsors wanted plenty of birds, so they arranged to have pen-reared quail released on the course.

The quail, lacking knowledge of such elementary quail procedure as operating in a covey, wandered around singly or in twos and threes. They got out in the open, showing mild curiosity when a hawk flew overhead. They were searching for those little food pellets they had been living on. Grass seeds were completely strange to them.

A lean bird dog, running hell-bent-for-leather, got a whiff of quail scent and slid into a fancy point only a short distance from a pair of birds. Instead of squatting to get ready for a take-off, as "would wild quail, they ambled around looking at the dog as though they thought he was just plain silly.

This was quite distressing to the dog. It's hard to maintain dignity when you're being laughed at. But the dog held his point.

Then along came a human animal and it was his turn to be confused. He saw the quail running around still hunting for food pellets, entirely ignoring the dog—then ignoring the man. He moved up to within 20 feet and finally prodded the quail into flight. They made a dinky hop of about 30 feet. They weren't sure of their wings; this flying business seemed dangerous.

So the question arises, what chance do pen-reared quail have of surviving in the wild if they are unalarmed by hawk and dog and man? The answer is they have practically no chance.

This fact was established as far back as 1927 when Herbert L. Stoddard, considered the "father" of game management and author of a definitive book on the bobwhite quail, concluded that pen-rearing wouldn't work. The only way to increase the quail supply, he said, was to improve the land—provide more food and cover. Yet in the 27 years since Stoddard made that statement, almost every quail state in the U.S. except Mississippi and Texas has tried its hand at releasing pen-reared birds.

The fallacy of pen-rearing has seldom been better demonstrated than in Missouri. First, the state tried the foster-parent system, hoping trapped wild quail would teach the pen-reared chicks the facts of life. Only a few pairs would adopt young. Where individual birds took over, with males showing a much stronger family drive than females, the young failed to survive. On as unstocked tract where the land was improved, quail increased from 192 to 605 in five years. On a comparable tract stocked but not improved, there was a decline.


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